If a game makes you feel like its protagonist, if it really helps you to experience the important events and smaller details of an individual’s life, all while slumped on your sofa at home, then the game in question has done its job right.
Marvel’s Spider-Man has definitely done its job right.
Fans of the wall-crawler will know he’s had long history of starring in video games of varying quality, from the soaring heights of swinging standard-setter Spider-Man 2 to the mind-blowing tedium that is Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, if you’ve ever felt like playing a Spidey game, you’ve had an extremely mixed bag to choose from.
Now whereas the mixed bag of the past remains, a clear winner has emerged in the form of the PS4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man (handily named so you don’t forget which company he belongs to) which surpasses all other video games based on the web-head and really puts you in his shoes (or spandex sock-like garments) like no other, just as long as you have a PlayStation that is.
MSM brings us a seasoned superhero, 8 years after that fateful spider bite; our protagonist is making headway in both his lives as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and the balancing of this dual identity is one of the game’s high points. As Spider-Man you can swing around Manhattan, putting an end to both street-level petty crimes and the more dramatic antics of supervillains, while as Peter you’ll worry about the regular aspects of life, like keeping your job and paying rent.
While many of us play video games to escape the mundane aspects of living, the fact that Insomniac can make objectives based around tasks like these both fun and meaningful is a real credit the studio. The game’s story really shines when moving between large action set pieces and slower, more contemplative missions and despite the presence of a number of quick time events which do tend to take you out of the action, albeit briefly, with long-time Amazing Spider-Man comic writer Dan Slott having contributed to the writing, it’s not hard to see why the game matches the pacing and drama of an actual comic book.
Now having a compelling story is one thing, but a game based around a man who swings on webs and walks up walls needs to have gameplay to match skills of this nature. Luckily the web-swinging and general traversal of Manhattan Island featured in MSM is a well-crafted system which helped me live out the fantasies I had when I was kid, pretending to be Spider-Man and trying to stick to a wall (living the ‘being a nerd who isn’t invited to parties’ aspect of Peter’s life is especially appropriate here). Web-swinging around the city is fairly simple, only using a few buttons to obtain maximum momentum, however it does come with a learning curve and it can be difficult to maintain speed and style as well as precision; often you may have to stop and interrupt your flow to reach a particular rooftop or vantage point you’re aiming for, rather than being able to seamlessly navigate every surface and structure in the city, with high-rise construction sites being one example of this. The occasional stop and start here and there, however, is a minor inconvenience in a fun and thoughtful traversal system and the best web-swinging in a Spider-Man game to date.
Along with jumping around on rooftops, one of the webhead’s favourite pastimes is bringing the hurt to baddies of many varieties, and the game’s combat system makes full use of each of his superpowers to create a varied and satisfying way to punch virtual enemies in the face. Utilising a warning and counter system popularised by the Batman: Arkham series (and copied by virtually everything else) the player is able to sense upcoming attacks and dodge accordingly, you can then use a variety of ground and aerial-bases moves, combined with special abilities unlocked with every alternate costume to deal out pain and justice in fun and inventive ways, and trust me, it is extremely satisfying pummelling enemies with a web-launched manhole cover.
The combat system in MSM may not be the most original out there, as not only does it take pointers from the Arkham series, but from earlier Spider-Man games like The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s sequel, but instead of just re-hashing things we’ve seen before, Insomniac have built on these borrowed aspects, adding to them and putting their own (web) spin on things.
In addition to the main story and petty crimes that happen around the city, there is a large amount of side missions to complete and collectibles to obtain, which help keep the gameplay varied and change the pace nicely; don’t fancy fighting organised crime or tracking down a bald man with wings? No problem, take it easy and shoot some nice landmark photos or complete a few scientific research minigames at the local lab. There are also 55 of Peter’s backpacks to collect, webbed to rooftops and walls all over the city, these collectibles each contain an item from Spider-Man’s past, a nice touch which helps expand on the previous unseen 8 years of his superhero career.
Overall Marvel’s Spider-Man is a thoughtfully crafted and well-executed adventure, which doubles as a dramatic superhero simulator and a slice of life take on one man’s personal struggles. The game combines inventive web-swinging and combat systems with a compelling story that spotlights some of the web-head’s supporting cast, with a welcome focus on characters like Mary Jane Watson and Miles Morales (Google him, trust me) in addition to the man himself.
With impressive graphics and engaging gameplay, it’s clear that Insomniac was trying to create a slick Spider-Man experience that would appeal to the fans of the character, and while its obvious this has been achieved, most importantly Marvel’s Spider-Man is just a very fun game to play; it’s one that you can lose hours of your time playing, and if a video game can do that, then it’s done its job right.